Steam Merry-Go-Rounds got start in Lockport
Located on over one-acre of prime Erie Canal real estate, an amazing business developed as a result of Lockport’s combination of cheap power and convenient transportation. The firm of Norman & Evans was located along the hollow on the north side of the canal, at the foot of the locks. With over seven buildings on the banks of the Erie Canal, the firm produced the first steam “switchback” merry-go-round in America in 1892.
In 1891, Messrs. William Norman and Spalding Evans took over a business operated by Alexander Pound and renamed the business Norman & Evans. The business was described in 1891 as such, “The plant is a large commodious one operated by water power, and the firm also furnishes power, by cable, to several other manufacturing concerns located in the immediate vicinity. The firm manufactures engines, derricks, ditching machinery and steam merry-go-rounds, which of late years have become so popular in all parts of the United States, as well as in many foreign lands.”
The merry-go-rounds were “up to 40 feet in diameter and contained 25 life-like ponies, which had a galloping motion, two chariots, and two carriages each with two double seats, which gives a varied seating capacity for 55 people at once. These machines were supplied to purchasers on easy terms, with engine and all the necessary paraphernalia, including tent, complete and ready for immediate operation. The “Lockport Daily Journal” describes the success of the merry-go-round business in their July 11, 1891 edition. “The first steam riding gallery ever built in the city was highlighted Thursday evening on the grounds of the Pound Manufacturing Company near the foot of the locks. Loaded to its fullest capacity with many people, the machine rotated with that even motion of the stationary seats, and the rocking movement of the horses, which is so much desired. Conspicuous among its many excellent features is the fine workmanship displayed on the wood and iron work. A neat canvas tent encloses the affair, while outside; a small upright engine rapidly turns the endless cable which revolves the gallery. It is a nice outfit to be sure, but it comes high, something like $2,600.”
Another article described the profit potential enjoyed by the purchases of these merry-go-rounds. “These machines are veritable gold mines, when properly managed. To our knowledge, one of them has taken in, in one day, $562, and at a two-week run at a summer resort, has earned $2850 net, over all expenses.” Not bad for a $2,600 investment.
Like Norman & Evans, Charles Rand Penney operated his business proximate to the Erie Canal. Dr. Penney enjoyed his view from the upper stories of the Bewley Building, where he housed his amazing collection of artifacts for many years. The Penney Gallery which now displays many of Penney’s collecting treasures has many artifacts, paintings and pictures that clearly display Penney’s fondness for “Clinton’s Ditch.”
If You Go: The Penney Gallery is a great place to explore Niagara County’s past. The Fall/Winter hours of operation are 10 am to 3 pm Thursday through Saturday. Please bring your family at 11 a.m. on Sat. Dec. 22 when we will continue our new movie series with “WNY: From A-Z.”